The COVID-19 is yet threatening the Muslims around the world in general and Pakistan in specific. While the majority of the Muslim countries have decided to lockdown mosques in the holy month of Ramadan, Pakistan’s government has allowed the reopening mosques in the country and lifting restrictions for all sorts of congregational prayers (including Taraweeh).
This decision was taken in a meeting where Ulema (religious scholars) reached a consensus with the government under some predefined SOPs to be followed. It was mutually agreed that the mosque should form committees to ensure that people are abiding by the rules and decided SOPs. If during Ramadan, the government authorities feel that the situation has slipped out of hands and the number of cases surge, the authorities can amend the decisions taken.
After the decision was taken, the different segments of the society have their varying perspectives regarding the government’s verdicts to reopen the mosques. One group of people is supporting the decision to lift the restrictions. This group believes that as for all the other activities there is a partial lockdown in the country so there is no harm in reopening the mosques for congregational prayers.
Believing Ramadan to be a month of blessings, they believe that people of the country would be able to reap maximum benefits through collective prayers and spiritual connectedness. This group of people reinforces their argument terming it to be a religious issue where the decision was taken in close consultation of the government with religious scholars contrary to the other Muslim countries. Being a justified decision according to them, there is no need to follow other Muslim countries where the majority of their rulers haven’t involved religious leaders for taking such decisions.
Moreover, the other Muslim countries are following a complete lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and mosques are not an exception. In the past, the government and the religious leaders were always seen to be far apart from each other as far as the other religious issues such as moon sighting for fasting and celebrating Eid (Muslim’s holy festivals twice a year) is concerned. So this group thinks that both the segments are equally appreciable for making such a collective decision while showing unity over this religious issue of prime concern. While supporting the decision, they are considering the other segment of the society opposing this decision as liberals who are lacking the spiritual affiliations with the religion.
The other group of people is strongly opposing the decision as they fear that it would possibly endanger the drive to curb the spread of coronavirus. They consider that one has to follow medical science in preventing such an epidemic from spreading and not the religious leaders who are motivated by emotions and seldom care to put people’s lives at stake.
They are proposing to keep the religious harmony under such conditions at the international level and one must be in close coordination with the rest of the Muslim countries. They also strengthen their arguments by presenting certain Islamic justifications which also support isolation and allow individual prayers under such pandemics.
As far as the rationalization of partial lockdowns for the other activities and limited movements is concerned, they consider it to be necessary as no other valid and alternate choice is available. So they believe that a need for locking down mosques and avoiding congregational prayers as well as Taraweeh is more a medical issue than a religious issue. They also fear that it is impossible for mosque committees to strictly abide by the predefined conditions and SOPs.
The two groups of people need to critically analyze the issue while keeping in mind both the religious attachments and the fear of the virus’s spread.
For the group who support the decision are in need to think whether offering prayers is more a spiritual act or a physical act. When the Muslims are standing close while offering prayers it eliminates the differences that a rich person feels for the poor and vice versa (Isn’t it the basic essence of congregational prayers in Islam)? While in the meeting it was decided that the worshippers must maintain a distance of six feet so where does this basic concept/purpose of congregational prayers stand under such conditions? Is there any possibility (provided in the religion) discussed in the meeting or is there any provision of offering prayers and Taraweeh (special prayers) while being connected through loudspeakers and staying at home?
Similarly, for the group who are opposing the decision, they need to realize that no one is forcing or pulling them for congregational prayers and Taraweeh and they still can continue with the lockdown and necessary isolation that may help to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 spread. They need to convince positively the other group about the consequences of abandoning social distancing and motivate them to ensure maximum safety measures while limiting isolations and starting social connectedness. One should believe in religious harmony because making Coronavirus a bone of contentions under such circumstances will further deteriorate the situation.